It’s that unrivaled day in the year when a special word that starts with the letter g is especially on my mind: g-g-g-g-gravy..I mean gratitude! But in all seriousness, I do love that even just for a day, sometimes for the whole season, we’re encouraged through tradition to reflect upon all that we are grateful for.
The remarkable thing about gratitude is that it only takes a little gratitude to go a LONG distance, or to experience a HUGE mindset shift. There are studies upon studies that gratitude leads to an increase in happiness levels overall and satisfaction with one’s life.
Gratitude helps us maintain a healthy perspective, and illuminates the glass-half-full (or overflowing) alternatives in our general outlook. It prompts us to treat others with greater levels of kindness and appreciation, and last, but certainly not least, it helps us become more grounded and aware of the beauty within our unique circumstances in the here and now.
As much as we know about gratitude and its insurmountable benefits, it can still be a struggle and a half to be achieve a stance of gratitude on a regular basis. All of us have experienced “the grass is greener” moments, and with social media feeding us images upon images of our entire extended network (and sometimes strangers) living their best lives 24/7, it’s way too easy to lose sight of how many precious experiences, things, and people we are blessed with in the present moment.
In the spirit of gratitude, I’ve decided to present 5 super-simple, doable, reasonably quick ways to incorporate the G-word into your life this holiday season, and if you so choose, beyond that as well:
- 5 minute journal – while I generally try to limit the apps I’m flipping through during the day (and currently failing miserably at that!) 5 minute journal is an app that certainly helps insert gratitude & reflection pretty seamlessly into your day. Here’s how it works: In the morning, it sends you a push notification that prompts you to list three things in the app that you are grateful for that day, listing three things that you’re going to do to make the day great, and it even leaves room for you enter daily affirmations. Then, at the end of the day, it sends you one more push notification for you to list three amazing things that happened that day, one thing that could have made the day even better, and it lets you set a photo for the day’s entry. It’s super quick, super easy, and my favorite part is that it catalogues all of your days in a way that you can look back, reflect, and smile– and be like “oh yeah, that was the day a stranger was super nice to me on the bus and it totally made my day” or “oh yea, that was the day we hosted our first dinner party at our studio apartment” — Here’s the a snapshot of what the user-friendly interface looks like:
- [physical pen and paper]Gratitude journal- This is a personal favorite of mine, mostly because I have a soft spot for the good ol’ fashioned art of journaling. A gratitude journal works like this: at any point of the day, each day, write down one or several things that you’re grateful for in the present–right then and there. It can be in literally ANY format that works for you– shorthand, cursive, bullet points, concept webs, whatever tickles your fancy. This past summer I wrote three things I was grateful for in my relationships at every lunch break Monday through Friday, and it became a total highlight of my day-to-day routines. A quick search on Pinterest will yield dozens if not hundreds of different gratitude journal formats and ideas — here are a few examples:
As you can tell from the screenshots above, there’s no “one right way” to keep a gratitude journal– mine, for example, was in between pages of reminders and grocery lists and a running list of blog ideas. Or you can go the route of purchasing a gratitude journal where the creator and publisher has pre-formatted it with prompts and a little more stylistic structure. Do what feels best to you and see where it takes you 🙂
- Write an unexpected letter to someone (Or multiple unexpected letters to multiple people) — Every once in a while, I stop and think about how cool life’s both planned and unanticipated accomplishments can be, and I think about all the people who helped me get from being an insecure 23 year old eating Stouffer’s lasagna for most dinners and so desperate for a job in DC that I’d go to things like Speed-Networking events, to where I am today– it’s not like I made Forbes 30 under 30, but I live in a city I love, I’m nearby the people I cherish most, I’m able to navigate the world a heck of a lot better than I did six years ago, and I’m in a profession that I LOVE. And when I think about that windy topsy turvy road that led from there to here, I’m aware that there were DOZENS of people who played a part. Even in an indirect way. Like former roommates. Or professional mentors years before I even knew I wanted to go into teaching. Maybe they gave me advice at just the right time about something, or maybe they helped me realize I was in a really crummy relationship at a certain point during those years. Whoever those people may be, we all have individuals that helped nudge us along our early adult years in sometimes extremely subtle but nonetheless impactful ways. As they say, it takes a village. One fun activity in gratitude is to think about something you’re immensely happy about in your current life– job, relationship, outlook on life, a hobby you’ve picked up, a pet you’ve adopted, whatever it may be– and think about the individuals whose presence, pointers, or support helped you obtain that thing or feeling or milestone. Now choose one of those people, write a note of thanks expressing your gratitude and perhaps connect the dots for them on why they had such a positive impact on your life, and drop it in the mail. Not only will you likely get that tingly feeling that arrives when things come full circle, but they will get a delightful surprise and discover how they–perhaps unknowingly–impacted someone’s life in a positive way. The 2017 digitally-inclined version of this would be to send a text to someone with the same contents and intention within the message. Both versions are great, I’m just a sucker for snail mail and personally think it adds quite a nice touch. Plus then they get to keep it forever.
- Nightly reflections – This one’s easy peasy lemon squeezy, but does require some consistency to turn it into a regular practice– to me, the hardest part is just remembering to do it. That’s when setting a reminder on your phone or in your planner might come in handy. Here’s my suggestion for how to do it: At the end of the day, when you’re all tucked into bed, after [or instead of] thinking about what you have to do the next morning, dedicate just several minutes– it doesn’t even have to take a full five — and go over the sequence of your day. What were the highlights? What were the little things that totally rocked? What were the things that put a smile on your face? What was totally satisfying? Once you’ve taken time to reflect, choose two or three things that you’re grateful for with respect to that day in particular, and complete these phrases in your head: “I am grateful for_______; It’s remarkable that_____; I am so happy to have______”
- Gratitude jar – Get a mason jar or any container with a lid (Folger’s coffee can, emptied and washed jam jar, etc). On your desk or kitchen table or on the wall right by your bedroom door, place a sticky note with the week’s date range at the top. Then either make a list of 1-7, or Monday-Sunday. Each day of the week, write down a phrase or key words that sum up what you’re grateful for (& consider adding why from time to time, too!). At the end of the week, fold up the sticky note and place it in the jar. At the end of the year, you will have a full year’s worth of week-by-week reflections that describe your gratitude over the course of that year.
The thing about gratitude is that it nudges you to be thrilled and pumped up and totally warmed by the present. Because honestly ladies and gents, that’s all we have. What we “used to have” isn’t worth dwelling on. Who knows what we’ll gain or lose in the months moving forward. But the here and now? It is precious and it is overflowing with reasons to do a little gratitude dance.
May everyone have a relaxing, healthy, joy-filled holiday.
Thank you for the world around us, the people beside us, and the love between us.
The Mindful Maniac